Without doubt one of the quirkiest movies I’ve seen in a long time, Oh, Lucy! is by turns hilarious and sad and brutally honest. The central character is Setsuko, a 40-something Japanese woman, who’s bored beyond belief with her life when her niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna) talks her into taking a “free trial” English lesson. And what a class that is! The first clue that this will not be a normal school is that it’s set in a massage parlor. Then there’s the cute teacher John (Josh Hartnett, Penny Dreadful) who employs some “innovative” pedagogical techniques including decking his students out in wigs and doling out copious hugs. He christens Setsuke “Lucy” for the class, and though she was only going to check it out, she has so much fun that she decides to do the classes for real. But when John suddenly heads home to the States, along with her niece Mika, Lucy decides to follow them, and her stuck-up sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) tags along. What follows is Lucy’s Southern Californian odyssey of self-discovery.
Setsuko/Lucy works as an office girl, a lowly thankless job in Japan. The audience’s first glimpse of her is as she waits for the train to work. Her face is devoid of emotion, even when the man behind her pushes past her to jump in front of a speeding train. The English class is the first thing that has taken her out of her dreary life in ages. So when John and Mika leave her, she jumps at the chance to take some of the vacation days she’s let languish, and heads to sunny SoCal. There is more than a bit of culture clash, but there is nothing in the US that limits Lucy as Japanese society did back home. And so she tries out her new persona, learning to drive, drinking and smoking pot, getting a tattoo, even a brief fling! But her self-centered adventure is not all without repercussions and having burned a whole lot of bridges, she returns to Japan and her hoarder-packed apartment alone.
Oh, Lucy! is a wonderfully creative character study that surprises and entertains. I had no idea what I was in for, but I’m glad I saw it. Shinobu Terajima is amazing as Setsuko/Lucy. She’s pitiful and lovable at the same time. And you pull for her, even though you know she is headed over the cliff. I’d recommend this film to anyone looking for a surprisingly odd yet satisfying foreign flick.
(If you were a fan of 2015’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, you’ll love this one, too. Same feel.)